Viking tennis team visits J.P. Stevens in CJ IV opener

By: Ken Weingartner
   Nancy McDonald said Tuesday that the Central Jersey Group IV team tennis tournament might feature the best competition in the state.
   On Wednesday, the NJSIAA seedings for the event proved her right.
   South Brunswick was seeded ninth in the tourney, which begins today, and visits 8th-seeded J.P. Stevens in the opening round. A total of 14 squads qualified in Central Jersey Group IV.
   McDonald said the region — which includes schools such as Manalapan, Marlboro, West Windsor-Plainsboro South, Bridgewater-Raritan, and Hillsborough in addition to Greater Middlesex Conference powerhouses like East Brunswick, J.P. Stevens and North Brunswick — makes for a challenging event.
   Bridgewater-Raritan is the top seed for the tourney and received a first-round bye. East Brunswick, which won the GMC Tournament and is coming off a 3-2 win over highly-regarded Rutgers Prep, was the No. 2 seed and also will sit out the opening round.
   Stevens, which has two wins over South Brunswick this season, were the GMCT runner-up and are considered by many as the third-best team in Middlesex County — behind East Brunswick and Rutgers Prep.
   "It’s going to be a pretty tough tournament in our section," McDonald said. "The section is really strong. The only weakness I see is North Brunswick, only because they play a White Division schedule. Other than that, our section has to be one of the strongest in the state, especially since we pull in teams from the south."
   The past two years, SB suffered first-round losses to teams from the south — Freehold and Marlboro.
   McDonald was disappointed to draw a familiar GMC foe in the opening round of this year’s event.
   "You want to play somebody different and see some different tennis," she said.
   South Brunswick is 7-4 overall and 5-4 in the GMC Red Division.
   Shangril Shah continue to lead the squad, having posted a 13-2 record at first singles. The sophomore, who placed third in the GMCT, has qualified for the state singles tournament.
   Sean Hammer, another sophomore, is 11-4 at third singles. He, too, placed third in his flight at the GMCT.
   "He’s been steady," McDonald said. "I can almost always count on him to come through. He’s really very competitive. He really analyzes his opponent’s weaknesses very well. He’s very adaptable to change when he’s losing. Mentally, he’s very tough at doing that. He has a lot of confidence in knowing he can beat someone, and he usually does."
   Hammer played doubles for the Vikings last season.
   "He doesn’t have a power game, but he’s very clean with his angles," McDonald said. "He’s good at serve-and-volley from his doubles play. He’s not an easy person to beat."
   Steven Hu, a freshman, is 6-7 at second singles for South Brunswick.
   "He’s playing better and better," McDonald said. "It’s not easy playing second singles, especially as a freshman. He’s lacking experience in match play and in confidence out there. But he keeps improving with his match play."
   The doubles teams of Mashuk Billah-Andrew Tsang and Shishir Sharma-Paul Cooper have given the Vikings depth.
   "This year, I feel confident we can pull off three wins somewhere," McDonald said. "We’re pretty solid at singles and fairly strong at doubles. How anybody plays on a given day is the determining factor."
   VOLLEYS: South Brunswick will send a squad this weekend to Middlesex County College for the GMCT for junior varsity players. It’s the third year for the tourney, which was set up on an informal basis by the conference’s coaches. Next season, schools are expected to begin play complete junior varsity schedules.